A day in the life

Erik Penz (BA'95)

I very much appreciated the opportunity to study history for its own pleasure under the guidance of some great professors. I wouldn’t trade my undergrad years for anything.

For the love of history

Erik Penz has a true affinity for history. He still refers to his home province in historic terms, and it’s one of the reasons the Toronto native was initially drawn to Halifax for university.

“I wanted to get away from Upper Canada, and I wanted to go to university somewhere with a strong sense of history,” he says. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer before I started, but it was reinforced by my studies of the origins of our legal system under Dr. Cynthia Neville, who teaches courses on mediaeval Europe.”

Erik may have known he wanted to eventually become a lawyer, but instead of focusing on his undergrad studies as a means to an end, he entered the History program at Dal for the pure enjoyment of it.

“To be honest, my History degree had very little to do with my chosen career in litigation, which is actually a good thing,” he says. “I very much appreciated the opportunity to study history for its own pleasure under the guidance of some great professors. The diversity of the department at Dal allowed me to study a wide selection of classes: Confederation politics, the mediaeval era, the Tudors, modern British history, Russian history, Scottish history, Caribbean history, and the history of the Maritime provinces.”

Erik is now a Toronto-based partner in the international law firm, Macleod Dixon, where he specializes in civil litigation, including corporate fraud, bankruptcy and insolvency, railway operations, environmental contamination, and cross-border litigation.

History is still as much of a passion for him as it was when he came to Dal. He says his undergrad years allowed him to cultivate a deeper appreciation for its importance, and led to his co-founding of The Dominion Institute less than two years after graduating.

“It’s a national advocacy organization dedicated to promoting Canadian history and civics,” he says. “I was chair of DI from 1997 to 2009, when it was merged with the Historica Foundation to become The Historica-Dominion Institute. It’s the largest history and citizenship organization in the country. I’ve been on the board of HDI since 2009.”

Looking back at his own past, Erik is unequivocal when asked if he made the right choice in studying History at Dal.

Absolutely, I wouldn’t trade my undergrad years for anything,” he says. “The resources at the Killam Library were excellent. The mix of people from throughout Atlantic Canada and across the country truly makes Dal a national university. And Halifax is a fantastic city to be a student. There was always the temptation to take a rowboat out on the Northwest Arm rather than study (except in the dead of winter!).”